Riverside Records was an important part of the jazz scene during their relatively short life (1952 to 1964) and their catalog is now part of the Concord Music Group, which recently released a set of five commemorative albums. Those albums, which are collectively named Riverside Profiles, each feature a legendary artist: Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Wes Montgomery, and the subject of this review, Cannonball Adderley. Each item also includes a bonus CD that consists of sample cuts from the others.
I’m sure that I’m not giving away any secrets when I tell you that a critic who has to write a review that gives a “thumbs down” is faced with a tough task. It’s difficult to walk a fine line between expressing disapproval and being perceived by the artist’s fans as taking cheap shots at their hero. That’s why it’s a genuine pleasure to review an album like this, featuring an accomplished musician at the top of his game, and someone whose music I have always enjoyed. (Had you going for a minute there, didn’t I?)
Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley (whose nickname was originally “Cannibal” because of his prodigious appetite as a boy) came out of Florida in the 1950s and joined the vibrant New York jazz scene, playing with many of the greats, including Miles Davis. For a number of years he was a fixture in the jazz world, both as a part of his own group and performing and recording with others. He was well-educated and articulate, and his knowledge of music, both modern and historical, allowed him to spend some of his early years as a high school teacher. He died – much too young – in 1975, but is still remembered as one of the best.
Every cut on this album is worth a listen, although I liked some more than others. They were all recorded at various times during that Riverside era with a number of different sidemen and guest stars. There are almost too musicians to list, but a sampling would include (in addition to brother Nat on cornet) Art Blakey on drums, saxophonist Yusef Lateef and pianist Bill Evans. The tunes on the album include some of Adderley’s best, such as his solid treatment of Bobby Troup’s bluesy “This Here”, which is followed by bebop sound of “Dizzy’s Business”. Some others that Adderley had some success with include “Jive Samba”, although that was not a favorite of mine – a little too frenetic for me – and Nat’s “Work Song”, which has an intro that clues us in to the fact that it was recorded in Tokoyo. On every tune, Adderley does what he does best, plays a virtuoso alto sax that can vary all the way from a melodic style reminiscent of one of his earlier influences, Benny Carter, to a soaring, up-tempo sound more like that of Charley Parker. A good example of the latter is his version of “Star Eyes”.
Some of the guest artists get their chance too. Milt Jackson tickles the vibes with skill on “Things Are Getting Better”, a song written by Adderley, and BIll Evans coaxes some soft sounds from his piano on “Know What I Mean?”, which he wrote. “Nardis”, a song written for Adderley by Miles Davis is another enjoyable listen. And finally something a little different, a song performed by a full orchestra that even includes an African drum player. It’s called “African Waltz”, and it’s fairly short so I’m including the full song. (Links shown in listing at bottom are short clips.)
The bonus disc is a good listen in its own right, with selections that include a couple of guitar favorites: “Airgin” by Wes Montgomery, and Charlie Byrd on a song that’s become almost a standard, “Desafinado”. The last cut on the bonus disc is by Adderley and his quintet, another up-tempo tune reminiscent of bebop, “Bohemia After Dark”.
I can’t imagine how any jazz lover – or even just a casual fan – could go wrong with this twin set. Classic jazz by great musicians, and a two for one value. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Disc 2 (Bonus Disc)
1 Dat Dere / Bobby Timmons 5:25
2 Airegin / Wes Montgomery 4:27
3 Soft Winds / Chet Baker 6:32
4 My Foolish Heart 4:56
5 Desafinado / Charlie Byrd 2:29
6 Thermo / Art Blakey & Jazz Messengers 6:48
7 Bemsha Swing / Thelonious Monk 7:44
8 Bohemia After Dark / Cannonball Adderley Quintet 7:49